- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

President Obama forced acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign Wednesday and said he will cooperate fully as he and Congress try to clean up the tax agency after it admitted targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny during last year’s campaign season.

Mr. Obama, who was criticized initially for not treating scandal seriously, said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had asked Mr. Miller for his resignation and accepted it.

“It’s important to institute new leadership,” Mr. Obama said in a hastily arranged statement in the East Room of the White House. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives.”

At the time of the misconduct, however, Mr. Miller was not in charge of the agency, though he did hold a high-ranking position. His assignment as “acting commissioner” was scheduled to end in early June anyway.

The move is unlikely to quiet critics on Capitol Hill, where earlier in the day House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said firings would not be enough to clean up the mess.

“Who’s going to go to jail over this?” Mr. Boehner said.

SEE ALSO: Lawmakers see plenty of other places where IRS can find tax scofflaws

According to news reports, investigators are considering whether the IRS case includes violations of the Hatch Act, a criminal law that limits political activities by career civil servants.

Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Mr. Miller’s resignation “does nothing to change the culture of discrimination at the IRS.”

“There are still far too many unanswered questions and until we know what truly happened, we cannot fully fix what is wrong,” he said.

Mr. Camp’s panel on Friday will hold the first of what is expected to be several hearings on the IRS scandal. Mr. Miller is scheduled to testify.

Members of the House and the Senate also are talking about myriad legislation fixes, meaning the issue will remain a hot topic on Capitol Hill for months.

Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, introduced a bill Wednesday that would prohibit the IRS from receiving any funding under Mr. Obama’s health care law, major parts of which it is supposed to enforce.

A day earlier, Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, proposed legislation that would prohibit the IRS from developing discriminatory methods for organizations under, or applying for, tax-exempt status because of ideologies expressed in the organizations’ names or purposes.

According to a USA Today review of IRS data, at the same time conservative and tea party groups were waiting years, or are still waiting, to get certified as nonprofit educational groups, such liberal groups as Bus for Progress and Progress Florida consistently won approval in a matter of months.

Over the past several days, numerous conservative and libertarian groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Christian Voices for Life and the National Organization for Marriage, have publicly charged that their tax-exempt status was delayed or that they were otherwise harassed by the IRS.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who said he ordered a criminal investigation on the matter Friday, the day the scandal broke, told Congress on Wednesday that he will follow the probe wherever it leads — including to the national IRS office in Washington, if need be.

“The facts will take us wherever they take us,” Mr. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Obama said he has ordered Mr. Lew to put safeguards into place to ensure that such misconduct can’t happen again, including implementing all recommendations from an inspector general’s report.

“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again,” Mr. Obama said, reading a statement at a hastily called appearance at the White House East Room on Wednesday evening. He took no questions from reporters, though he said he expected to do so Thursday at a previously scheduled joint press conference with Turkey’s visiting prime minister.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said in an audit released Tuesday that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups that had “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names, giving them extra scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status.

The audit also found that the IRS delayed the applications, in some cases for years, and a number of them are still awaiting approval even though they were submitted in 2009 and 2010.

The IRS asked probing questions such as the names and resumes of group members, the number and activities of volunteers and all Facebook postings made by the group.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, on Friday apologized for the “inappropriate” practice and said the cases were initiated by low-level workers in the agency’s Cincinnati office.

But in recent days it has been revealed that IRS officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved.

CNN reported that Mr. Miller — while meeting privately Wednesday with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat — said two “rogue” agents at the Cincinnati office were primarily to blame for the problems.

The audit suggested that the IRS make nine systemic changes to ensure that the problems don’t happen again. The IRS, though, rejected two of the changes.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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